Monday, September 1, 2014

Bedford Blues and BBQ 2014

sampled 8/31/14
This was the 5th straight year I have judged at the Bedford Blues and BBQ KCBS cookoff.  Previously this had been considered the KCBS State Championship, but I think they moved that out to El Paso this year.  KCBS only has a handful of events in Texas and they are still trying to build up all of the events they do have.  I'm not sure if moving of the State Championship was a factor, but the number of teams was down a bit this year compared to last.  I think there were 76 teams this year compared to more than 90 in 2013. 

The smaller number of teams combined with the continuing interest in certified BBQ judge training classes finally produced the problem I have seen coming for several years.  KCBS had way more certified judges than they needed for this year's event.  That meant a lot of folks who came to judge were unable to judge, but helped out in other volunteer positions or just got their book signed and went home.  The judging class the previous day had 65 students.  That's a BIG class. It looked like only about 10 folks from the Saturday class were in the judging room and I have no idea how many showed up and then went home.  Many may have also been cooks taking the class to learn what judges look for.  That happens a lot and seems like a good idea for anyone who wants to compete in KCBS contests.  

The City of Bedford has leased out the old library to a new tenant so we were relegated to a small conference room inside the main building.  We were spoiled in previous years with that big open library space and they were just able to squeeze in 13 tables to the space available.  Barely.  The tenants were kind enough to let Bedford used that space and they didn't have to do that.  We were lucky indeed to be inside with some air conditioning instead of outside in a tent.  I don't know what KCBS and Bedford will do if they have more than 80 cooks next year.  I don't think that space will hold more than 13 tables of judges.

Ralph and Karen were back again as lead reps from KCBS with Larry and a good crew to help out.  Things started off with an introduction from Ralph and then they started the usual game of musical chairs.  Couples were separated and the mix of master judges and newbies were moved around to try to get as equitable a distribution as possible.  For the first time I can remember they actually had 13 trained Table Captains and no one had to do "double duty" of both judging and Table Captain.  As usual there were judges from all over the place including Pennsylvania and Florida.
After some additional discussion of rules and procedures, we took the "BBQ Oath" and sat down to await the first food samples.

As usual I can't say a lot about the food because KCBS is worried about judges or their process being compromised.  I think that is a smart thing because it is all about giving the cooks a fair and equal chance when there are thousands of dollars worth of prize money involved.  As usual, each table received 6 samples of each meat which were scored individually by each judge.  The food I had was about what I usually get at these contests.  I had one piece of chicken I thought was pretty good.  Much of the rest had such a thick coating of sauce that they dripped when you picked them up.  I had a couple of decent ribs, nothing great.  Again, many were really heavy on the sauce department which just says to me they're scared their meat can't cut it.  The only 999 score on meat I gave all day came in the pulled pork category for outstanding smoke flavor, moistness, and tenderness.  I am not really a huge pulled pork fan but that was some good stuff.  Brisket was a disappointment, as it usually is in this contest.  Many of the boxes had heavily "painted" slices.  Never a good sign.  One slice was so tough it completely failed the pull-apart test.  You could stretch it like an accordion but it would not break.  Yikes.    Anyone need to make a slingshot?  A couple of pieces were OK roast beefy brisket with decent tenderness and moisture, but that was about it.

After the main meats were completed, 5 tables of judges stuck around to sample beans, sauce, and that most treasured of all food groups, dessert.  Most of the judges headed off voluntarily, having completed their duties to qualify towards masters level.  I always fast the day before so I can stick around.  There wasn't anything exceptional in the bean category but several tried some wild styles to try to stand out.  Three of the 4 sauces I tried were just nasty and the other was just average.  We received 4 desserts to try and 3 of the 4 were fantastic.  I can't say a thing about the desserts because each was very unique.  All I can say is I am very happy I stuck around to judge that category.  :)

Overall I had a great time, as I do every year at this contest.  I have never made it out to another KCBS contest but I look forward to this every year because it is so much fun.  To you cooks out there, please know that the judges take their job very seriously and there is a lot of slow and deliberate consideration on every bite of every sample we get.  Congratulations to all the winners and thanks to all the volunteers and KCBS reps that make this annual contest such a fun event.

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